November 23, 2010 / 10:17 PM / 8 years ago

Thanksgiving is worst day of year for home fires

CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) - Thanksgiving is the traditional day to count your blessings, but for some it is also the day to set the house on fire.

There are more home fires on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year, with fire departments responding to triple the normal number of incidents, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Not surprisingly, most of these fires originate in the kitchen from clumsy or inattentive cooks.

“The reality is the doorbell rings and your friends and relatives are at the door and you want to greet them and chat, and you just don’t think to go back to the kitchen,” said John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for Underwriters Laboratories, which rates the safety of products such as appliances.

Thanksgiving dinner is a big project, with the turkey in the oven and all the burners in use for side dishes. There are many people hanging around in the kitchen, drinking, chatting and distracting the cook.

It is easy to let the water boil over or the potatoes burn. Trying to put out the fire yourself can lead to injury and make the fire worse, experts said.

One way to remind yourself of the hazard is to carry around a hot pad or potholder. Each time you look down you will be reminded of the food and kitchen, Drengenberg told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The popularity of deep fried turkey has added to the fire hazards in recent years. Deep fried turkeys are boiled at searing temperatures in up to five gallons of hot oil. The practice is so hazardous for the uninitiated that not one turkey fryer has been certified as safe by Underwriters Laboratories, Drengenberg said.

While the fryers are made to operate at a temperature of around 350 degrees Fahrenheit, they can soar to as high as 670 degrees — when the oil literally bursts into flame — if not watched carefully.

“If you are going to use a turkey fryer, do it outside as far away from the house as possible, don’t overfill the fryer with oil and never put a partially thawed turkey into the oil,” Drengenberg said.

A good rule of thumb for thawing a frozen turkey in the refrigerator is to allow a day for every five pounds of meat. This means the thawing process should start days ahead of the feast, experts said.

A partially frozen turkey plunged into hot oil can send up a sudden cloud of smoke and oil that could cause a terrible burn, Drengenberg said.

Reporting by Greg McCune; Editing by Jerry Norton

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